5 WAYS TO ENJOY A CITYBREAK WITH KIDS
A citybreak is supposed to be romantic- a weekend spent lounging outside pavement cafes, sharing candlelit meals, strolling hand in hand round cultural monuments… so can you really enjoy a weekend in a glamorous European city with the kids in tow? Yes, you can- and here’s how.
1.PREPARE THEM IN ADVANCE
Adults love to plunge into new cultures, try new foods, and experience exciting new tastes. Children, by contrast, are like grumpy old men, who have eaten the same breakfast for 73 years and aren’t about to swap their Warburtons toast for some fancy bit of puffed-up foreign pastry.
That’s why, if you try to enjoy a petit dejeuner at some glorious Art Nouveau Parisian Café, your children will gaze at the croissants as if they are baked hand grenades, and refuse to contemplate a dinner menu that doesn’t feature des nuggets et frites. So, like getting a cat used to a new home, you can ease the stress by gradually introducing the foods you want to eat on your citybreak at normal mealtimes.
Once they’ve eaten Paella made with Tesco prawns, the genuine Barcelona version won’t scare them so much (unless it’s the kind with octopus. In which case, forget it.) And if they’ve had croissants from Sainsburys’ as ‘a treat’, they’re less likely to spoil your wonderful St Germain breakfast whining about eggs and soldiers.
Research from the University of Birmingham shows that small children may have to try an unfamiliar food between eight and fifteen times before they accept it. So break down resistance before your citybreak- not on the first morning.
2. RESEARCH PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Adults love to wander- strolling down picturesque alleyways, walking miles just absorbing the surroundings, enjoying the atmosphere, admiring the architecture. Try that with the under-tens, and you’ll get as far as the hotel steps.
Children don’t understand the idea of ‘just wandering about’ for an unspecified time. That’s why ‘are we nearly there yet?’ is stamped through their little bodies like Blackpool rock, and despite being unable to manage homework, bedtime or getting their own shoes on, they have an internal timekeeping apparatus like a Patek Philippe when it comes to their next meal.
So there is zero fun to be had in traipsing unfamiliar streets with whining children demanding plain-cooked food and claiming exhaustion, no matter how often you cry “look, darling! A perfect example of Modernist architecture!”
Instead, make sure you fully understand the public transport system of your chosen city. “We’re on this bus for ten minutes then we’re going to a café,” is infinitely more appealing to children than “let’s just see where we end up.”
"you’ll all have far more shared fun laughing at German sealions, or attempting to build a foam tower of blocks..."
3. BUILD IN RUNNING-ABOUT TIME
It’s tempting to decide that this is your break, and the kids will simply have to enjoy it. They can learn to love Art! Museums are highly educational! And no way are you wasting an entire afternoon hanging about in the Dutch equivalent of a soft play area, just to keep them quiet.
However, they didn’t ask to be dragged round cultural experiences- so a bit of give and take works wonders.
If the weather’s fine, most great European cities have wonderful parks- the Park Guell in Madrid, the Tuileries in Paris, Amsterdam’s Vondelpark- so concede a museum or two, and instead, head to a sunny park bench, while they befriend other children on the swings.
This will probably be their highlight of the weekend, and they’ll spend the next two years begging to go to ‘that special park’ again, having forgotten that it was 1500 miles away and across the sea. No matter- it’s a small price to pay for a happy afternoon.
4. VISIT KID-FRIENDLY ATTRACTIONS
If there’s two of you, you can always go your separate ways for a couple of hours- one can sprint round the only-interesting-to-adults museum while the other whisks the kids off to the interactive one that offers child-friendly fun. But if not, make the child-oriented museum a priority.
Most big cities have a museum of science or natural history, an aquarium or a zoo- and rather than spend a morning attempting to stuff them with dusty cultural knowledge (“Did you know this is where Rembrandt lived?” “Whatever”), you’ll all have far more shared fun laughing at German sealions, or attempting to build a foam tower of blocks at a French science museum. If they’re over ten, you can risk a couple of hours at the dusty, cultural coal-face.
As long as you’re prepared to reveal scurrilous and inappropriate stories about the artists’ lives and gruesome facts about long-ago cultures, including a full re-enactment of the cutting off of Van Gogh’s ear, you’ll probably get away with it.
"This may be because children are the spiritual offspring of dolphins..."
5. HEAD FOR THE WATER
There may be moments where you’d like to throw them in it during your weekend, but as a general rule, children are happiest near water- whether it’s the seafront in Barcelona or Biarritz, the Seine, The Thames, the Rhone in Lyon, the ports of Rotterdam or Marseilles or the great fountains in Madrid’s Retiro Park, they will light up like sparklers as soon as they get with spraying distance.
This may be because children are the spiritual offspring of dolphins and bring with them a message of peace from the oceans- or it may be because they really like getting wet.
Either way, book a boat trip down the river, or a tour of the Amsterdam canals, or let them paddle in the sea, watch the boats at the old port, and walk (holding your hand) around the fountain edge and it’s almost guaranteed they will enjoy it- and you will, too.
THE 5 BEST CITIES FOR A WEEKEND WITH KIDS:
DO: Boat rides on the Seine, the artists at Montmartre, The Magic Museum, the Pompidou.
DON'T: The Louvre. It's huge, exhausting and dull.
D): The London Eye, London Zoo, The Museum of London, The Tower of London
DON'T: The V&A. Adults adore it, children will die of design-based boredom.
DO: The Science Museum, CosmoCaixa, the Chocolate Museum, Barceloneta beach, Barcelona Aquarium, Montjuic Castle (by cable car.)
DON'T: the Ramblas- busy, hectic, and full of street traders who will try to get the kids to pester you into purchasing.
DO: the canal boat tour, the Amsterdam Museum, the Ann Frank House, the Zoo and the NEMO Science Centre on the Ij.
DON'T: The Royal Palace, unless the kids are big on interiors.
DO: The Prater amusement park, a bike tour, the ZOOM children's museum, the Schonbrunn Zoo, the Natural History Museum.
DON'T: The Opera. You know why.
We highly recommend a City Card – these are available from the official Tourist websites, and offer big discounts on public transport, museums, attractions and restaurants, for a one-off fee.